Amy and Jack Robinson raise cattle in the Gros Ventre and drive them over Teton Pass to Tetonia, Idaho, for processing at Rammell Valley Pack.
“We haul them over with a truck and a trailer,” Amy Robinson said.
So when the Wyoming Department of Transportation closed Teton Pass to eastbound trailers a month earlier than usual this fall due to safety concerns on the steep grade, that doubled the travel time it takes the Robinsons to return home, requiring them to drive around through the Snake River canyon.
The early ban has also hit other small businesses from landscapers to fly-fishing guides.
Steve O’Brien, owner of O’Brien Landscaping, said his trucks haul equipment from Idaho to Jackson Hole almost every day.
“I’ve had to drive around through Alpine to get it over there, even though the roads were bone dry, and I could’ve made it over the pass no problem,” O’Brien said.
The longer route, he said, is costing his business.
“When you already have a bid, it’s just taking money out of your pocket you didn’t plan for all that fuel to drive around 100 miles to get your equipment over there, and time,” O’Brien said.
He said October is a busy season for O’Brien Landscaping because clients want jobs completed before the winter.
Though the scheduled seasonal closure typically starts Nov. 15, WYDOT closed the pass to eastbound trailer traffic Oct. 15. The decision came after the Teton Pass vehicle arrestor — meant to safely capture out-of-control vehicles heading into Wilson — failed to stop a pickup pulling a trailer loaded with logs Sept. 10. The arrestor has been out of commission since the accident, which remains under investigation.
When the roads are dry it’s particularly frustrating to be prevented from traveling east over the pass, Robinson said. She would have preferred a day-to-day restriction based on weather, though she understands why that wouldn’t be possible.
“I think they do an outstanding job with the pass,” Robinson said. “And I’m grateful I’m not one of the people who have to travel it every single day.”
Violators of the eastbound trailer restriction risk a $435 fine, WYDOT warned.
“Our concerns lie mostly with the eastbound traffic on the east side of the pass, given the steep grade, topography and accident history,” WYDOT District Engineer Keith Compton said in a statement.
Matt Beal, owner of First Tracks Lawn Care, sees both sides.
“I totally get why they closed it,” Beal said. “They can’t have people crashing like that all of the time.”
After the truck pulling logs disabled the arrestor, an out-of-control potato truck departing from Sugar City, Idaho, plowed into a storage shed Sept. 30 near the base of Teton Pass after its brakes failed. The truck was 17,000 pounds over the weight limit, a violation that carries a $655 fine, Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Matt Brackin said. The weight limit for Teton Pass is 60,000 pounds year-round.
WYDOT announced the early trailer ban after the second accident. When Beal saw the news he scrambled to finish jobs in Teton Valley, Idaho, before it went into effect. He is based in Jackson but has clients on the west side of the Tetons. At this time of year he’s often pulling a compressor to blow out irrigation systems. Fall is busy for landscapers, who are aerating lawns, doing a final round of fertilizer, planting and cleaning up shrubs, beds and leaves.
“Everybody is trying to get stuff done before the ground freezes,” Beal said. “It’s a race to get it all done.”
Although he was able to adapt, he knows other longtime landscapers who were particularly hard hit by the ban.
WorldCast Anglers President Mike Dawes said the eastbound detour also poses a challenge for fishing businesses operating on both sides of the pass. For example, a guide taking clients on the South Fork of the Snake River one day and the Snake River the next has to drive a boat trailer around the pass through Swan Valley, Idaho, and Alpine.
“I get it, but an 18-wheeler’s a little different from a raft or a drift boat, especially since it’s, you know, local people trying to support their livelihood,” Dawes said.
Likewise, Robinson said, “some exclusion for longtime locals that are attempting to successfully run a business would be nice.”
A runaway truck ramp a mile up from the arrestor remains open. Barring weather closures, westbound vehicles can travel with trailers through Nov. 15.
— Jennifer Dorsey, Allie Gross and Rebecca Huntington